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Network Automation

by Andrew Lerner  |  August 5, 2014  |  7 Comments

After mentioning that networking agility can be delivered via automation tools like Puppet and Chef, I wanted to dive into this topic further. There is a relatively recent trend for networking vendors (i.e., Arista, Cisco, Juniper and others) to support these tools in their switches, although user adoption is low. So without further ado, here is a Guest Blog on Network Automation from Ronni Colville

About 5 years ago if anyone had asked me if Open Source Software (OSS) tools for automation were relevant for IT administrators, I’d have said not so much. But over the last several years, Open Source automation vendors have become center stage. The most topical vendors to date are Chef and Puppet Labs (alpha order) but the one that started it was CFengine, and the newcomer is SaltStack. There are and will continue to be future derivatives of these tools but here’s what’s become so cool about open source automation/Config tools.

These tools provide a programmatic framework for building content (each having their own framework ‘language’) to automate your infrastructure. The focus was predominantly on servers (specifically unix, linux but more recently Windows) but of course there are plenty of other use cases for provisioning binaries, etc. and in the future…. Networking devices!

If you’re familiar with DevOps, you may have heard these vendors mentioned in context of one of the DevOps tenants: ‘Infrastructure as code’.  What is that? It’s exactly what it sounds like.  Instead of scripting, or manually using a CLI, these vendors’ frameworks enable you to ‘codify’ automation (often configuration oriented) in a repeatable fashion. This eliminates creating many ‘one time use’ scripts or working in CLI. These vendors offer Open Source tools with a community of content. But if you are not into Open Source – don’t fear…. They all offer commercial flavors of their tools also. For some that’s good – you get all the benefits and security of a commercial product, and the Open Source content to work from, and for others (often more ‘dev’ oriented) the OSS tools are more their thing.

I could go on and on about these vendors and tools (stay tuned I’m working on a note for later this year) – but until then know this:  while they’re all in the same category, they aren’t all the same. Chef is often the favorite of the developer community while Puppet and the others are more often used by Sys Admins or IT administration folks. But just as I say this – some developer is grimacing saying – not so- I use Puppet and vice versa that an Ops person is rolling his/her eyes at me that Chef is in use….. so you have to evaluate which is more your thing –(skills-wise). We’ve published research on these vendors as well, including:

Cool Vendors in DevOps, 2012 (Ronni J. Colville | Jim Duggan | Cameron Haight) – Includes Puppet Labs, Opscode (Chef) and CFEengine

Cool Vendors in DevOps, 2013 (Analyst(s): Ronni J. Colville | Jonah Kowall | Colin Fletcher | Jim Duggan) – Includes SaltStack

Why is this cool for Networking? Well there are plenty of folks in Gartner that can step you through this but here’s my take –I’ve been at Gartner for almost 20yrs (I joined when I was 12!) but I’ve covered a variety of automation tools and I have noticed that many times there is a hesitancy in automating what you do for a number of reasons. One  area in particular that seems to really hold-out for automation are Network admins. Desktop guys figured it out almost 2 decades ago, server guys about 1.5 decades ago (and many are still not there!) but many networking folks are still holding out. I’d say now is just about the time to get on board. With all the SDx noise (specifically SDN) there will be a whole new way for you to grow your skills and become center stage… all these clouds may make work-loads, or apps or IT services provision quickly but running them and scaling them will fall to the NETWORK!! Hint…. That’s you J

For those interested in more detail, check out this research:

Know the Application Release Automation Vendor Landscape to Shortlist the Best Vendors for Your Organization (Ronni J. Colville | Colin Fletcher)

Summary: The speed and agility of application releases are growing exponentially, and application release automation tools keep adding and refining their capabilities to keep up. DevOps, operations and development stakeholders should use these insights on the ARA market to quickly develop shortlists.

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Category: guest-blog  networking  

Tags: arista  automation  cfeengine  chef  cisc  devops  juniper  opscode  puppet  saltstack  xconfig  

Andrew Lerner
Research Vice President
6+ years at Gartner
21 years IT Industry

Andrew Lerner is a Vice President in Gartner Research. He covers enterprise networking, including data center, campus and WAN with a focus on emerging technologies (SDN, SD-WAN, and Intent-based networking). Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Network Automation


  1. In my opinion the biggest contributing factor for the lack of adoption of automation in the networking space is the market domination by a few companies. It was not until very recently these companies started offering some level of automation, but any pre-SDN interface was poorly documented and even more poorly promoted. In other words, why disrupt the money machine that has served them well.

  2. […] From the Facebook blog:  “Our goal is to make deploying and operating our networks easier and faster over time…” I couldn’t agree more, and improving/simplifying Network Operations is a key area when we evaluate solutions as part of the Data Center Networking Magic Quadrant.  One of the specific ways Facebook simplifies things is to automate wherever they can, which reduces manual error and scales much better (here’s a related blog on network automation). […]

  3. […] From the Facebook blog:  “Our goal is to make deploying and operating our networks easier and faster over time…” I couldn’t agree more, and improving/simplifying Network Operations is a key area when we evaluate solutions as part of the Data Center Networking Magic Quadrant.  One of the specific ways Facebook simplifies things is to automate wherever they can, which reduces manual error and scales much better (here’s a related blog on network automation). […]

  4. […] Read the source article at Gartner Blog Network […]

  5. […] Read the source article at Gartner Blog Network […]

  6. […] Read the source article at Gartner Blog Network […]

  7. Jim Duster says:

    Infosim believes in the future of network automation so sincerely that “the dark NOC” is one of our company tenets. Our latest innovation we call Dynamic Rule Generation (DRG). It is as cruise control was to automobiles. “take repetative tasks and give the NMS a chance to do those for you” leaving you for the important stuff like knowing how to avoid that Google self-driving car. DRG works similar to “copy cell formula” in Excel, where you can use referential formulas to built powerful uber rules that scale up or down as the network changes, no hands on the gas pedal or the wheel. Check it out, and remember, if you can do it manually, you can automate it.



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